Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 26, 2011

The Boundary Hunter and the Lemon Tree

Setting Boundaries Around Your Writing
by D.A. Watt

This morning, while basking in the early morning quiet in my yard, I studied my little orchard of citrus trees – a navel orange, a mandarin, and a lemon.

My dwarf lemon tree, over-laden with ripening fruit, bent uncomfortably, its branches pulled taut like broken bones, twigs nearly touching the ground. My tiny tree, this lopsided hoarder of lemons, refused to let go of even one fruit to lighten its load. Though I’m tempted to prune one of its branches and offer some comfort, I am also chafing for the lemons to ripen. You see, I’m in it for the juice.

We writers are a bit like my lemon tree. Our lives, full and heavy laden with fruit, are often burdened by too many branches: friends, work, charities, school, the nurturing of those we love, not to mention the care and feeding of our “body of words.” These responsibilities can make us lopsided, causing us to tilt to the point of breaking. Sometimes we must take a moment to prune, give away some fruit, or release a little juice.

“Be mindful of your time,” Seneca says, “you are given only so much.” He’s letting us know that there’s daily choices to be made. Prune your excesses. Say, “No,” to something or someone. Lop off a branch or shorten it, don’t hoard all your fruit like my lopsided lemon tree. Give some away.

It’s okay to take a hiatus, only not from writing your “body of words.”

Some of you practical-minded writers, the ones I call Boundary Hunters, I know what you’re thinking: “Geez, just set boundaries and stick to them, delegate to others, hide, run away, lie.” That’s not me. I’m still learning how to prune in a way that suits me.

No matter how organized we are, we are gifted with the same 24-hour day. I used to ride horses, a passion of mine, and have put horse time aside, for now. I can’t do it all or have it all if I want to write.

Currently, I am pruning my virtual and real social network so I can spend 2 hours writing each day. I’ve taken the advice of Susan Elizabeth Phillips to heart and now I keep a stopwatch beside me, clicking off the timer when I take breaks or need to attend to something other than my writing. Once I resume writing, the timer clicks back on. It might take me ten hours to get two writing hours but even if I want to go beyond my two-hour limit, I don’t. The stopwatch is King and I obey.

When two hours a day becomes a habit, then I will allot more time to writing each day. I have learned that once I overload, I cannot bear much fruit. For now, I am modifying and resetting my boundaries, habits and routine, pruning as I go. I am learning to be a Boundary Hunter in my effort to be fruitful without breaking.

Hint #1: When extracting lemon juice, roll the lemon like a hardboiled egg on a hard countertop, pressing down with the palm of your hand as you roll. Then cut widthwise in half, insert fork tines and wiggle, wiggle, wiggle to extract juice into a cup. When finished, fish out pits with fork tines. If the pits are too small, eat or drink ‘em. That’s what I do.

Hint #2: If you would like something more than a stopwatch to help keep you on track, try http://www.timetimer.com/products/products.php.

My favorite, especially for the ADHD minded, is the Watchminder, you can preprogram up to 30 times a day and the watch vibrates: http://www.watchminder.com.

Lastly, for more variety try http://www.eadhd.com/?source=google&gclid=COuktsOF66cCFQmt7Qod8XLmZw

Stay thirsty,

0 comments on “The Boundary Hunter and the Lemon Tree”

  1. Keeping writing as a priority is always a challenge for me so I appreciate this reminder! I have not used the timer method before but will give it a try. Thanks!

  2. D.A.,
    Yum. I love lemons. It's so dang hard to prune them. I guess that's the point, huh? It's hard to get rid of things we love to make room for other things we love. Right now, I'm trying to figure out what things should be trimmed back or cut out altogether. I hate making these choices, but it's important in order to say "yes" to something better, like following the writing dream.
    Thanks for the post. It has me sharpening my shears.

  3. Wishing I could just prune whichever branches I feel, but I am concerned with how the whole tree shapes up! Interesting.

  4. A beautifully written and poetic piece that illuninates the very reason I have not yet won a Pultizer. Sometimes the problem is not just too little time, but making the most of the time that we do have. It is a continuing challenge, but I think your ideas will help clear the way.

  5. Love the lemon tree metaphor! It's so true...my son is penning a few novels as well, and he complains about the lack of free time because school and work take over his life. I have to send this to him! Then again, he could probably use a little pruning in the video game department. Happy writing!

  6. A perfect quote to close with as we become immersed in our body of work. “Everything vanishes around me, and words are born as if out of the void. Ripe, graphic fruits fall off. My hand has become the obedient instrument of a remote will.”
    --Paul Klee

  7. Deb,
    This piece hits the mark, from the practical (juicing and timer tips) to the philosophical (Senaca) quote. Mostly I love your admonishment to "stay thirsty."

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